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Expert tease: Weight loss in a bottle?

Have you ever wondered how an expert becomes an expert?

It’s easy. You just tell the world you’re an expert. Done!

Even better, set up a web site. Then you can tell the world you’re an expert AND you have a web site to prove it.

This is how representatives of the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline have gone about establishing themselves as weight-loss experts. And guess what? Not only are they experts, and not only do they have a web site to prove it, but they’ve also developed a drug to help you lose weight. That’s thoughtful!

Sure, the drug has common side effects you wouldn’t wish on an enemy, but that’s a small price to pay when you’re getting “expert” advice.

In the ballpark

Glaxo has asked the FDA for approval to market an over-the-counter (OTC) drug called Alli – pronounced, “al-eye.” Alli is simply a low-dose version of a prescription weight-loss drug called Xenical. If the FDA approves Alli, it will have the distinction of being the only weight-loss drug available OTC. So the key selling point will be: Why take your chances with weight loss supplements when you can take an FDA-approved drug that needs no prescription?

Well, I can think of five good reasons:

  1. Xenical works by partly blocking absorption of dietary fats (NEWS FLASH: Some dietary fats are essential for good health)
  2. According to the Xenical web site, the drug also interferes with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as D, E and K and beta carotene
  3. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the blocking of fat absorption “results in flatulence and other unpleasant side effects”
  4. According to the Xenical web site (FAIR WARNING: If you’re eating something, you might want to put it aside for a moment) other unpleasant side effects may include gas with oily discharge, increased number of bowel movements, urgent need for bowel movements, and an inability to control bowel movements (all of which seems to be a polite way to dance around the word “diarrhea”)
  5. These side effects usually occur during the first weeks of treatment, but in some people may continue for six months or longer (again, according to the Xenical site)

Whew! That’s a dozen different kinds of crazy.

Of course, we don’t yet know how completely Alli duplicates these five impressive drawbacks, but since it’s a low-dose version of Xenical and works by the same mechanism, we can be pretty sure it’s in the same ballpark.

Question EVERYthing

While Glaxo is waiting for the FDA to rubber stamp – errr – “approve” OTC status for their drug, a consumer health care division of the company has set up a web site called Question Everything. The site doesn’t even mention Alli, but it does offer “expert” weight-loss advice, and it just happens to promote a weight-loss philosophy that supports the way Alli works. Needless to say, the guiding light of that philosophy is that tried and true mainstream favorite: low fat intake.

The site also goes to great lengths to instill a fear of weight-loss supplements that haven’t been approved by the FDA. And of course, the FDA is portrayed as our diligent protector. (Remember, the sales pitch for Alli will depend on consumers’ unquestioning trust in the FDA.)

I agree that everyone who tries a weight-loss supplement should be very careful and should never take a new supplement without first talking to a doctor. But after the Question Everything site scares you to death about the unreliability of weight-loss supplements, they turn around and sing the praises of multivitamin supplements, stressing the importance of taking a multivitamin every day.

The site offers this observation: “When you are dieting certain vitamin and mineral levels may be reduced or fall below ideal levels.”

Uh YEAH! Especially if you’re taking a weight-loss drug – APPROVED by the FDA – that blocks absorption of several key vitamins!

Question everything? Good advice. Begin by questioning Alli.

“Web Site is a Prelude to Glaxo’s OTC Weight-Loss Pill” Jeanne Whalen, Wall Street Journal, 7/12/06,
“Frequently Asked Questions About Xenical”